Friday, 2 November 2012

What would Goffman think about furries? Persona adoption and identity masking in blogs and Second Life (by Liam Bullingham)

Concerning online identity, this research investigated persona adoption in blogs and Second Life (SL), aiming to discover how, why, and to what extent this occurs. The theories of early scholars Erving Goffman and Marcel Mauss were considered and applied to interaction in these emerging online environments.

The research sample included four bloggers, four SL users and two users of both media, and participants were interviewed using a semi-structured format. Data was then analysed and categorised using grounded theory.  The literature review yielded some fascinating examples of persona adoption and masking identity, such as Baker's 'blended identity' and Nakamura's 'identity tourism'; and it considered what online identity means within the wider concept of 'the self'. Goffman's claim that we wear a number of different masks in public was applied to SL & blogging, and users were seen to employ anonymity or psudonymity in order minimise the impressions they inadvertently 'give off', in Goffmanian terms. The practice of 'gender swapping' in online interaction and the concept of the avatar were also explored.
Interview data was discussed and categorised as follows:

·         Expressions given,
·         'Fitting in' - a key motivation for persona adoption,
·         Recreating the offline self online,
·         Dividing the self,
·         Anonymity,
·         Minor persona adoption through embellishment,
·         Information evaluation techniques are not always needed.

Following this, data was interwoven with scholarly research to test research findings. 'Recreating the offline self online', whereby participants were keen to re-create
their offline self online was an additional finding, in that it was not informed by the literature.

In comparing blogging and SL, it was found that there is significantly more pressure to conform in SL, meaning more persona adoption occurs through the use of the avatar. Persona adoption in blogging however, occurs in different ways, and perhaps
because there is less social pressure, there is also less persona adoption.

When concluding, I noted that the major limitation of the research was the small research sample, as identifying participants was difficult. However, research questions were well informed in that participants exhibited behaviours such as anonymity or 'embellishing the self' and explained their reasons for doing this.

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